Revolutionary Socialists: The “Brave Kids” of Egypt
By: Bisan Kassab
Published Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists are far from the politically irresponsible group they are now made to be. They started their political activism in support of Egypt’s labor movement over two decades ago and adopted a radical but pragmatic course for change.
Cairo – Some activists used the term “brave kids” when describing the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) last December. Even though they had previously come under fierce criticism from leftists and liberals for working with Islamists, they were also facing a legal complaint by Gamal Taj, a lawyer and prominent member in the Muslim Brotherhood.
The complaint accused the RS of seeking to destroy the state. It cited a statement by RS member Sameh Naguib that the old state must collapse, as should the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), after its soldiers lose trust in their leadership.
But due to widespread condemnation of the Islamists on social networking sites and newspapers, they quickly withdrew the complaint. Brotherhood leaders, including their Supreme Guide Mohammad Badie, also issued a statement disowning Taj’s complaint. The Freedoms Committee in the Bar Association also criticized the Brotherhood for lodging the complaint.
The RS were the first to warn against the SCAF taking power on the very day Hosni Mubarak was ousted and when the Military Council was still viewed as the “protector of the revolution” for remaining neutral. Today their publications openly blame the ruling SCAF for much of the post-revolutionary violence and repression.
The RS are also known for their passionate defense of the working class, particularly when unions were accused of stubbornly refusing to back down on their demands for the sake of economic stability.
Since their inception, the RS have engaged in one battle after another, many of which appeared too big for the group to handle. In the late 1980s, their supporters saw them as “brave” for their principled positions on many issues, while they were regarded as “fools lacking political intelligence,” among much of the elite.
In 2003, the state security prosecutor described RS members as “outlaws seeking to topple the ruling regime.”
The RS inaugurated themselves as an organized group during the 1991 labor union elections, supporting the striking workers. Back then, members of the RS snuck inside the Iron and Steel Company in al-Tebbin, and raised a picture of a worker who was killed during a previous security raid.
They were the first to stand in solidarity with the workers of the 1994 Kafr al-Dawwar company strike, including forming student support groups to expose the repression of that strike, which ended in gunfire and attempts to burn down the factory.
In 1997, they supported the rural movement that rose up against new laws that sought to deny farmers land tenure and imposed short-term leases at market rates. It was the same year that the first public call for Mubarak to step down was initiated by Kamal Khalil, the godfather of revolutionary socialism in Egypt.
The new millennium ushered in new opportunities for their movement after the eruption of the second Palestinian intifada. The RS was one of the founders of the Palestinian solidarity movement in Egypt.
This is when their position toward the Islamists distinguished them from the rest of the left, which was adamantly opposed to working with Islamists. From then on, the RS worked according to the slogan: “Sometimes with the Islamists, always against the state.” This position was later reinforced during the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon when they took part in joint activities with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Despite their small size, the RS was also at the forefront of the movement against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Tahrir Square on May 20 and 21 for the first time during Mubarak’s reign to protest the invasion.
The resurgence of a workers’ movement at the end of 2006 – which continues to this day – opened up the opportunity for the RS to extend their influence among members of the working class.
In 2007, they were the first to call for independent unions, after spending cold winter nights in front of the finance ministry in support of striking property tax collectors. When the strike ended, the first independent syndicate in Egypt was established, which later became the Independent General Federation of Workers.
The Sameh Naguib Case
During last December’s protest against the appointment of Kamal al-Ganzoury as prime minister, the RS dominated the news – so much so that they competed against news of the actual protest.
This was largely due to remarks made by RS member Sameh Naguib during a seminar organized by his movement, where he said that the soldiers and lower ranking officers have lost confidence in the army commanders.
This was interpreted by the authorities as a call to overthrow the state, prompting government supporters to call for action against the group. The response of the RS was striking. They issued a statement titled “Yes, we want to oust the state of tyranny, poverty, and subordination.”
Soon after, they found themselves facing legal action by the state attorney general. As for Najib, he was attacked at a demonstration against the SCAF in Alexandria last Friday, February 10.
A number of thugs assaulted him before handing him over to the military governor’s headquarters in the city, where he was interrogated by the commander of the Navy himself.
After he was released, state-owned Egyptian TV edited out statements he made to make it appear as if he was thanking the army for rescuing him from the thugs, which he later denied.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.